Stressful Sleeping | Teen Ink

Stressful Sleeping

June 16, 2019
By anarh0113 BRONZE, Laurel, Maryland
anarh0113 BRONZE, Laurel, Maryland
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Stress is an inevitable and deadly emotional and mental strain everyone faces at some point. It has a significant impact on all bodily functions, but one of the most detrimental is its impact on the brain and sleep patterns. Sleep is a crucial factor needed to have a productive day, as it restores the brain to prepare for what lies ahead and rests all bodily functions from prior strain. The average teenager needs eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, and the average adult, aged 26 to 64, needs seven to nine hours (Foundation, 2018). However, according to a poll taken by the National Sleep Foundation in 2018, 46% of Americans claimed to be poor sleepers, yet only 10% prioritize sleeping, prioritizing work, fitness, hobbies, or their social lives instead. Sleeping for 10 hours leaves no guarantee that the body will be fully refreshed, as a person can wake up multiple times throughout that night and have trouble going back to sleep. Sleeping for six hours may not be a long time, but if the body feels rejuvenated, then it works. Essentially, quality of sleep is more important than quantity. Both cases certainly play an important role in the impact of a person’s behavior and health when neither is achieved. Due to the lack of prioritizing sleep, and the constant stress of today, a deadly combination, in 2018 50-70 million Americans faced sleep disorders (“Sleep”, 2018). Daily life is impacted as a result of the fogginess of particular brain functions caused by sleep disorders and stress. Stress along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it being a form of stress as well, can cause subconscious sleep disorders such as insomnia, night terrors, Rapid-eye movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder, and sleep paralysis, which can negatively affect brain function and foil decision-making.

Consciousness is the root of all sleep, so before addressing sleep distortions, the source must be analyzed. There are four stages of consciousness: awareness, daydreaming, drowsiness, and sleep. There are four stages of sleep. Non-Rapid Eye Movement One (NREM One) still contains connections to a subject’s conscious being. NREM Two occurs when the brain sends tranquil brain-waves that prevent the sleeper from waking up. NREM Three occurs when the brain transmits delta waves. In this stage it is difficult to wake up the sleeper. REM sleep is the deepest stage of sleep. It is the stage in sleep in which the body is fully rested, resisting any tension in its muscles. This is when dreams occur. Each stage of both consciousness and sleep plays a detrimental role in sleep transition. Activities performed before sleeping can be mirrored in sleep. These subconscious behaviors are controlled by the basal ganglia; the center of voluntary and subconscious movement. The basal ganglia can mirror compulsory traits including anything from cognitive to physical abilities (Hyoung, 2015). It is particularly useful in cases in which quick, compulsory decision making is required, such as when using reflexes.

Decision making is an everyday process in which everyone has participated. Under specific circumstances such as peer pressure, decision making can be executed poorly. Under poorly functioning brain, however, is an entirely worse situation. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for decision making. It controls impulsivity and balances the amygdala and basal ganglia to control emotional activity to prevent irrational behavior. When the brain is stable, the amygdala is responsible for controlling emotional activity. Instability may make a person unable to control emotions or actions. This can lead to decisions based solely off of emotion or impulse. A constant stream of bad decisions can often be linked to an impaired prefrontal cortex. In cases in which an individual has faced constant sleep deprivation, therefore developing insomnia, the prefrontal cortex has reduced metabolism (Desseilles, 2008). Because the prefrontal cortex is weakened when the amygdala is strengthened, the amygdala has the ability to increase startle response in the catecholamine release in the body (Arnsten, 2014). When Thomas’ night terrors were triggered, his “fight or flight” response was triggered as well, but because of the chemical imbalance in his brain caused by his condition, his reaction was controlled by his emotions, and he was unable to determine that he was simply dreaming.

The prefrontal cortex being the most sensitive to stress, facing chronic stress can very easily impair the brain’s balance. Decision making is a crucial part of everyday life, but regulating stress is just as important to protect the ability to make conscious and smart decisions.

Stress and PTSD play a role in every life around the world. Their impact can be detrimental to the body. Acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress can all claim responsibility for many bodily impairments. Acute stress is the most prevalent in daily life. It describes small doses of stress that generate adrenaline, such as being in an argument, or being stuck in traffic. These situations are only temporary. Episodic acute stress is when acute stress plays a frequent role in one’s day, such as, a person is always running late, or a couple is always arguing. These are temporary situations that consistently occur. Chronic stress is the most dangerous type of stress because it is long term, and seemingly never-ending (“Stress”). It is stress that cannot be resolved in a day and is a gradual process. Its danger comes from its ability to bring on depression along with mental and physical strain. In acute stress, fight or flight responses can be triggered in cases such as a robbery. PTSD is a version of stress. It is the brain’s means of protection, using past experiences as a basis. It “reorders neural networks and sensory pathways,” which prepares the body for familiar scenarios (Seahorn, 2016). PTSD is a means of protection the brain creates through past experiences. In cases of a damaged prefrontal cortex, a person cannot be trusted to make the proper decisions under stress. When stress is prominent in the body, a hormone called cortisol is released to regulate it and prepare the body for further stressful situations. However, when an overabundance of cortisol develops in the body, it causes the brain to shrink. As a result, the prefrontal cortex shrinks as well; however, the amygdala and the basal ganglia grow causing an imbalance in the brain (Arnsten, 2014). This can cause irrational and hormonal decisions being that the amygdala controls emotional activity. Chronic stress affects memory along with bodily systems. This hormonal imbalance can play a large role in impaired decision making. PTSD, as a result of a shrunken brain, causes a shrunken hippocampus. This causes altered memory and emotion (Yaribeygi, 2017). Through sleep, if there is an abundance of stress, a person may act out his dreams without being able to control it as a result of a weakened prefrontal cortex. Outbursts that are able to occur as a result of this can be tied to sleep disorders. An overabundance of stress causes architectural reconstruction of the prefrontal cortex. Stress affects the performance of flexible thinking and complex tasks, unless said tasks are already registered in the basal ganglia, where it becomes less of a task and more of an automatic response in which stress improves performance (Arnsten 2009). Stress’ effects rewire the brain; however, these impacts create consequences for the victim, as his mentality is not in pristine shape. Triggers to past traumatic experiences can result in panic attacks and sleep disruption. Frequent cases of this can lead to sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders are impairments in the sleeping process that affect sleep quality and/or quantity. They are often caused by stress, and they affect a good growing majority of the world’s population. The symptoms of sleep disorders are often overlooked, and as current generations normalize mental instability, sleep disorders are treated on a lesser scale. Sleep disorders such as  insomnia are viewed as minor; “While one-fourth to one-third of the general population reports a complaint of difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, about 10% present chronic complaints and seek medical help for insomnia” (Basta, 2007). Insomnia causes sleep deprivation, which slows the metabolism of the brain. This slows down the mechanisms of conducting energy and strengthening synapses. There is altered moods and decreased attention and concentration, a result of chemical imbalance in the brain (Camandola, 2017). Insomnia causes fatigue, resulting in decreased daily activities. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a disorder in which the paralyzing process included in REM sleep is absent, allowing the victim to thrash about (Gupta 2015). Due to impairments in sleep transitions, as a result of chemical imbalance, the brain waves responsible for the sleep stages are disrupted. Night terrors are a parasomnia in which intense fear during sleep transitions cause the victim to scream, thrash around, and potentially get out of bed and roam around. Victims are difficult to wake up (“Night” 2018). Sleep paralysis occurs as a result of “brain inertia”, and the body still registers itself as in REM sleep, whence the brain paralyzes the body. There is an increased likeliness to sleep paralysis if one has faced trauma because flashbacks to certain events can wake one up abruptly frequently (Aouad 2018). While the brain is very intricate, one impairment can affect the body’s systems like a domino effect.

As the mental stability of the current generations deplete, sleep disorders such as these four are blatantly ignored. Rather than fighting for less stressful aspects of society, the current generations are simply accepting their fate. In a survey conducted for the data collection with 51 respondents, all a mix of Millennials and Generation Z students, 65% stated that they slept less than the recommended average. When asked how often stress made its way into their lives, 70.6% stated that they faced chronic stress. When asked if they had any healthy ways to absolve their stress, however, 39.3% of respondents stated that they did not have any healthy ways to absolve their stress, and one anonymous respondent stated, “No ways exist that truly relieve my stress. No methods work, and our education system just keeps piling on more stress, wondering why [o]ur students have high percentages of mental illness.” This further portrays the attitudes of students today who are forced to suffer through stress and succumb to its overbearing power.

Generation Z students and Millenials have been researched to have the worst mental health and sleep levels in America. By prioritizing sleep, stress levels can be lowered significantly. Stress is dangerously undermining, and although it is an everyday occurance, when it begins to impact bodily functions, such as sleep, it poses as a real threat. Insomnia, night terrors, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, and sleep paralysis, all results of brain deficiency caused by stress, can seriously impair a person’s ability to make smart decisions. Sleep deprivation clouds the mind, as the brain is not caught up with the body because it has yet to recuperate. These disorders overtly impair the quality of sleep. Insomnia prevents sleep overall for so long that when the victim actually manages to sleep, their time is short and unfulfilling. Night terrors interrupt quality of sleep by allowing the body to thrash around and plaguing the mind with nightmares. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder allows the body to act out nightmares, unrestrained, which can result in bodily harm of the victim, or someone nearby. Sleep paralysis locks the body while often disturbing the mind with frightening images. Through this lack of quality sleep, a person will not be able to function properly throughout a day. By lowering stress levels, the quality of sleep can be improved, and therefore protecting a person’s ability to make intelligent decisions.


The author's comments:

The purpose of this piece is to inform teenagers on the impacts of chronic stress, in hopes to motivate them to regulate their stress levels.


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